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“I’ll keep this reasonably short,” he lied.

§ November 29th, 2019 § Filed under obituary, x-men § 3 Comments

So I’ll keep this reasonably short since it’s Black Friday and the day after Thanksgiving and y’all have better things to do that to read some old guy’s blog. I just wanted to say that I recently watched Chris Claremont’s X-Men, a documentary about that very thing that I found on Amazon Prime. I thought it was quite interesting, with lots of onscreen interviews with Claremont, one of his editors Ann Nocenti, other-mutant-writer Louise Simonson, and former editor-in-chief of Marvel Jim Shooter.

Lots of discussion about what went into making the book what it was, how certain storylines were put together, and how it all began to fall apart. My big takeaway from it, and one that wasn’t explicitly stated but could certainly be inferred (particularly by someone like myself who watched things happen on the retail end in real time) was that Marvel’s biggest mistake in the long-term health of the X-Men franchise was the straight-up discarding of Claremont after his shepherding of the property for so many years.

I went on bit of a Twitter-tear about this a couple of days back, where I essentially said that if Marvel had just kept Claremont in control of the book, instead of booting him off in favor of the Hot Artists that were in vogue at the time…in essence, if Marvel had thought about the health of the X-Men over the long haul instead of chasing that short term dollar, the X-books might have maintained their relatively-large audience (give or take the impact of the overall market decline in the ’90s) all these years. It could have been a consistent moneymaker, rather than a series of diminishingly-returning reboots/relaunches.

As pal Andrew rightfully noted, near the end there Claremont’s writing on the titles was, perhaps, not as keen as it had once been, and in need of a change. I do believe, however, that a carefully managed changeover to a new committed writer, maybe even keeping Claremont on as a consulting editor, would have been an overall better decision than, you know, what they ended up doing. (And who knows, Claremont could’ve found a second wind on the title…if it was necessary, as readers mostly seemed to think even the latter day stuff was just fine.)

One of the unique aspects of the X-Men, like the Legion of Super-Heroes before it, was the large fandom that surrounded it, attached itself to the characters, and were highly involved in the ongoing soap-opera aspects of their lives. Once that singular vision started to splinter with Claremont’s replacement by Many Hands, that addictive soap opera element began to lose its hold…and with cancellations and reboots, the perceived chain of continuity going back years seemed to feel lost. See also…the Legion of Super-Heroes, strangely enough. And New Teen Titans, too.

Of course, there are plenty of other (X-)factors at work here…I already mentioned the declining comic market, which may have forced reboots and relaunches anyway, whether or not Claremont was still on the title. And maybe, like all things, X-Men may have had its run and declined into obscurity. But I still can’t help but feel if Claremont had stayed on the book, or at least overseen a smooth transition to new creators who could have maintained the book’s approach, maybe those readers would have been kept behind, we’d have a book building on its own past, and we wouldn’t have had multiple restarts and #1s over the last few years.

I think having Jonathan Hickman as sort of the overriding “voice” of the new spate of X-titles isn’t a bad idea…the number and frequency of those new titles is a bad idea, but that’s just how Marvel is nowadays. But people are excited about the X-Men (if not especially the other new related titles) again, which is something that hasn’t happened in recent memory. Of course, as soon as Hickman is gone, everything’s getting new #1s again and we’ll be back at square one, but it is nice to pretend that maybe we’ll see an X-Men issue number…100 again? One can only hope.

• • •

I should note the passing of comics legend Howard Cruse a couple of days ago. He was a great cartoonist, by all accounts a fine human, and it’s sad to know he’s no longer with us. His classic graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, is coming back in a 25th anniversary edition next year, and if you haven’t read it yet, you really should. If you’re new to his work in general, his official website has plenty of strips you can peruse.

So long, Howard.

Tom Spurgeon (1968 – 2019).

§ November 14th, 2019 § Filed under obituary § 6 Comments

Tom Spurgeon was a unique and treasured voice in the comics community, with the incomparable Comics Reporter being a wonderful outlet combining his sardonic worldview with his love of the medium (often despite itself).

I interacted several times over the years, usually over email and, later, Twitter. He was never anything less than friendly and kind in all my dealings with him. On occasion, and not often enough, I’d drop him a line thanking him for a mention of my site on CR, or for noting my birthday (as he did every year), and he always seemed pleased that I did. Even though I’d been in this business for a very long time, Tom doing little things like this made me really feel like I was part of the larger comics industry.

What really got me was this: I was a longtime reader of The Comics Journal, which Tom wrote for and edited for many years. That someone from TCJ, a magazine I enjoyed and admired, a magazine that held comics to a loftier standard than most, found interest and value in sometime I was writing was…validating, to say the least. I still have an email from Tom where he tells me “you know you’re my favorite!” which I’m sure I’m not the only person he’s said that to, but I still value that moment quite a bit.

I…don’t think I ever told him just how much that support, those interactions, meant to me. I had considered that maybe, someday, we’d meet in person, perhaps when he had the opportunity to visit my shop (like he said he hoped to here). Never happened, unfortunately, and so I never fully related that gratitude.

I should have, regardless, at least over email. But I can’t now, though I can still tell all of you what his support meant. And how much I’m going to miss his writing on the internet. It feels strange to think that he won’t still be around, gathering links, reviewing comics, writing commentary, being silly and/or witty on Twitter, looking askance at whatever the rest of us are up to, and otherwise just being Tom.

I know that’s the same with every death: the loss of one particular collection of perspectives, experiences and personality that can’t be replaced. But losing Tom…that’s a rough one. We’ll still have all his writing to enjoy, but it’s difficult to imagine there being no more.

My condolences to his family, his friends, and to the rest of us.

So long, Tom.

A less-brief update.

§ December 24th, 2018 § Filed under blogging about blogging is a sin, obituary § 7 Comments

Hi pals! When we last met, I was still in recovery from some minor eyeball surgery and hoping to be back in full swing in time for Christmas. Well, as it turns out, there’s a minor complication requiring me to go back under the knife this coming Thursday. Nothing serious, just, you know, can’t see out of my right eye since blood ain’t clearing out of it. But I was warned beforehand that this was a possibility, so everything should be fine. It just has to be done, so dood it I will.

But thanks to all of you for your well wishes and kind words, and Progressive Ruin Industries will be up and running again in short order, processing that comics-related product that you’ve grown accustomed to over the last decade and a half.

In the meantime, I will have a special Christmas post up tomorrow…in fact, it’s already put together and scheduled to publish, so it’s too late to stop it now. And I’ll have the annual “gimme your comic predictions for next year” post up Wednesday, so warm up your clairvoyant powers for that. And then, most likely, the rest of week I’ll take off, but I plan to be back the following Monday.

On a somewhat related note, I was pretty happy to have a new issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen show up last week…I’d been looking forward to reading it, but I was curious as to why the latest installment came prebagged:


When I popped it open to discover the reason, lo and behold, 3D GLASSES:


This is pretty much the face I made:


Ah, well…something to look forward to after the surgery, I guess.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I’ll meet you all back here tomorrow and Wednesday.

• • •

I should note the passing of Brian Snell, the person behind the Slay, Mostrobot comics blog. He clearly loved the comics medium and had many people who appreciated and supported the work he did expressing that appreciation on a daily basis. My condolences to his friends and fans.

Stan Lee (1922 – 2018).

§ November 12th, 2018 § Filed under obituary § 5 Comments


As I recall, The Comic Reader got in a few letters of comment regarding this cover from 1980, where some folks didn’t appreciate the April Fool’s shenanigans. But I’ll tell you, the second I heard the news today, this was the very first thing that came to mind.

Well, we had Stan around a few decades longer than that gag image above would have had you believe, and I know there’s some discussion within the fandom and the industry about what exactly his legacy is. But, for the public at large, he was comics, and generally a positive representative for the medium. People liked Stan, and they liked to see him, and by extension that improved the perception of comics as a whole, I think. That’s not a bad thing.

And, in collaboration with spectacular artistic talent like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he wrote some of the best comic books ever published, and helped redefine just what a comic book was and what it could do. I’ve said before that the Thing isn’t just one of the greatest characters in comics, but straight-up one of the greatest characters in fiction, and it was Stan’s voice in combination with Jack’s pen that brought that ol’ bashful Benji to life. For that alone, Stan (and of course Jack) would deserve immortality.

I wish his final years had been a bit easier on him, but at the very least I think he knew how many people loved him and his creations.

So long, Stan.

Norm Breyfogle (1960 – 2018).

§ September 26th, 2018 § Filed under obituary § 5 Comments

A DUMMY: “Robin? Oh, please, what a silly character. There’s no way to make him serious and menacing.”

NORM BREYFOGLE: “MAKE WAY, SON”


Still probably one of my favorite Batman covers. Just look at how striking that is. What a great artist Norm Breyfogle was.

So long, Norm.
 
 

Batman #457 (December 1990) – art by Norm Breyfogle)

Steve Ditko (1927 – 2018).

§ July 9th, 2018 § Filed under obituary § 1 Comment


Sometime in the late ’70s, my grandmother gave me a bag of comic books she picked up at a swap meet or thrift store, which included a number of oddball comics I hadn’t seen before. I remember specifically a Classics Illustrated adaptation of Frankenstein (my first exposure to this series), but there were also a handful of first issues from Atlas Comics, which I’d never heard of. Grim Ghost was one, and still remains a favorite to this day…and there was also Destructor #1, the splash page for which was pictured above. I don’t know how much Steve Ditko work I’d been exposed to at that point…I know I had a few Charltons from the period Ditko was working for them, so I probably saw some of his stories there. But I always thought that splash page was a pretty cool drawing. “Hey, this Steve Ditko guy isn’t bad, he should draw more comics.”

I’m a wee bit more knowledgeable about his output now, and about his personal beliefs and artistic standards. He definitely stuck to his guns all the way to the end…I just wish fewer people felt compelled to knock on his door and bother the man in recent years. I mean, he pretty famously wanted to be left alone to work on his comics, right, so, I mean, what were people expecting? “Oh, sure, yes, YOU’RE the one who’s got through to me! You will now be my best friend and I shall reveal to you all my secrets!”

Sheesh. I mean, okay, I admit that deep down I kept a tiny flame alive for Stan Lee and Ditko reuniting for one more Spider-Man story, or that Ditko would finally decide to give one tell-all interview, both of which would surely occur now that flying pig technology has been perfected and Hell finally installed those air conditioners.

Anyway…Steve Ditko. There’s no mistaking his work for anyone else’s, and, especially in his later years, he did it the way he wanted to, beholden to no one’s editorial edict. It was low-hanging fruit to poke fun at some of his odder moments, I admit, but sometimes genius takes you in strange directions, and few geniuses were stranger, or more amazing, than Steve Ditko.

So long, Steve.
 
 

image from Destructor #1 (February 1975) by Archie Goodwin, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood

Harlan Ellison (1934 – 2018).

§ June 29th, 2018 § Filed under obituary § 3 Comments

A contentious figure, certainly, but very much a talented one, whose writing has loomed large in my life for many, many years. There’s a whole lot one could say about him, good and ill, and no matter your opinion on him, I’m sure it’s entirely justified. Still, it’s going to be weird thinking he’s no longer out there, being angry about something, pissing somebody off, or writing something amazing, or doing all three at once.

So long, Harlan.
 
 

image from Adventure Comics #479 (March 1981) by Marv Wolfman, Carmine Infantino and Dennis Jensen

49 (and change).

§ March 16th, 2018 § Filed under jack kirby, obituary, old, smallville, superman, television § 13 Comments

So one of the victims of my part-week blogging break was no birthday post. Yes, that’s right, your pal Mike just began his last year of his forties this past Tuesday…the warranty’s long expired, the creaking frame continues to bow, and the decay continues apace. I did mention the occasion on the Twitters, however, and received some very kind response there (as well as wishing birthday-and-blogging-brother Andrew a happy day).

The Bullest with the Mostest, Bully the Little Birthday Bull, worked up a bit of magic:


You can find the original image he used on this page of nightmare fuel. Oh, and by the way, now that I can make GIFs I may need to revisit that last pic.

Oh, and Tom Spurgeon over at Ye Olde Comics Reporter also noted the occasion, as he does every year. Thanks, Tom!

Another reason I kinda skipped out on the birthday post this time around is that I had my heart set on a particular panel, but could not find the thing, which has me wondering if I’m remembering the right comic, or if my age-addled brain has it confused with another comic, or if I didn’t just make up the whole thing out of thin air. Anyway, I’ll mention it here in case it rings a bell with any of you fine folks:

What I’m remembering is a panel from a Star Trek comic, maybe in the first DC series, or possibly the second run, where mention is made of Captain Kirk’s 49th birthday. However, and the reason this has stuck with me all this time (assuming I’m remembering it correctly at all) is that the “49th” in the comic had very obviously been relettered just prior to going to print, and almost certainly read “50th” originally. I mean, that was my presumption, in that they probably wouldn’t be making any kind of big deal out of a 49th birthday for story purposes. I remember guessing they were likely saving a 50th birthday story for some bigger event, or someone at the main Trek headquarters decided that they didn’t want Kirk to be that old, or some darned thing.

I hunted through my Trek comics for the scene, and couldn’t find it…I still have full runs of both series (didn’t give ’em up to my store!) plus all the specials and minis and whatnot, so if it actually exists, it’s in there somewhere. But, like I said, at this point I’m even sure it was in a Trek comic and involving Kirk. If you know, please share your knowledge!

• • •

So this week, DC released a freebie funnybook tying into the imminent Superman-prequel Krypton series appearing on the SyFy cable channel:


My immediate reaction to seeing that cover is “…Tom? Tom Welling?” but that’s likely because I watched all ten seasons of Smallville and I’m still recovering. But it didn’t help when I looked inside the comic at the “meet the characters” section and Superman’s grandfather is dressed like this:


…which all the world looks like the get-up Clark was wearing in the latter seasons of Smallville:


I mean, that has to be deliberate, right? Aside from all that…despite my initial skepticism regarding the show (“It’s about Superman’s grandpa?”) I’m actually intrigued, particularly now that I know about the time travel element and the inclusion of DC’s classic space hero Adam Strange. I may be one of those “wait to binge it on streaming” guys, since I’m way behind on everything as it is, but I’ll at least try to catch the first episode. …There better be at least one Thought-Beast on the show, that’s all I’m saying.

This tweet from Twitter pal Joe sort of got me thinking about that Smallville-esque comparison, though Joe’s point of contention/admiration was more for the “Fight Like El” tagline, which is admittedly both amazing and appalling. And if you’re wondering, yes, the entry for the Zod family character has a reference to kneeling, because that’s just a Zod thing now and you better be used to it. (“Fight Like El” reminded me of these somewhat confrontational DC bookmarks from a while back.)

Oh, that World of Krypton comic, by the way, is a reprint of the first issue of the mini-series of the same name from the mid-ish 1980s by John Byrne and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. If you’ve never read it, it’s not bad…and if you like it, the entire series has been very conveniently reprinted in a World of Krypton trade paperback released just a week or two ago (along with other Krypton-based stories).

• • •

Oh, and there’s going to be a live-action New Gods movie…you know, no big deal. That of course means…LIVE ACTION SLEEZ:


Well, okay, maybe not. But the director of A Wrinkle in Time, Ava DuVernay, is signed on to direct, and given what I’ve seen of the visuals for that film (which I haven’t had a chance to see yet, despite really, really wanting to) gives me a good feeling about her take on Kirby’s Fourth World. Also, to quote my hopes for this film from Twitter, only with the stupid typo in the original corrected:

“I want this New Gods movie to be the Kirby-est thing that’s ever Kirbied. I want to SEE the quotation marks around assorted words in actors’ dialogue.”

I mean…right? Yes, yes, I know Thor: Ragnarok was very Kirby-ish, but New Gods was straight out of Kirby’s head, no Stan Lee required. I want everyone in their original costumes (yes, even…especially…Black Racer), I want dialogue quoted from the comics, I want that opening bit preserved in its entirety (“THERE CAME A TIME WHEN THE OLD GODS DIED!”), everything. I don’t care if movie audiences are ready for it. Let the studio paraphrase Jack himself on the movie posters: “DON’T ASK, JUST WATCH IT!”

Alas, it comes too late for the Don Rickles cameo:


…though it was suggested having one of his old movies/TV appearances on a television screen might be a good reference for those in the know.

But…c’mon, a New Gods movie. I can’t wait.

• • •

Mark Evanier reports that comics writer Michael Fleisher passed away last month at the age of 75. He was probably most famous for his Spectre and his Jonah Hex (and, ’round these here parts, the amazing Hex), but this is what I’ll remember him for the most:


I wrote a bit about that book a couple of years back…man, I spent I don’t know how many hours perusing that tome. And there it still sits on my bookshelf today, nearly forty years after I first acquired it. Thanks, Michael, for all that entertaining information you provided a young me, just beginning to learn about Superman’s history.

Len Wein (1948 – 2017).

§ September 11th, 2017 § Filed under obituary § 2 Comments


And so soon after losing Bernie. And like his most famous artistic partner, I am sure Mr. Wein still had so many great stories left to tell that we’ll never get to see. I believe I even saw a recent interview or ‘nother where he was talking about still writing even more Swamp Thing after his recent return(s) to the character. I know I had my criticisms of the last mini-series, but dangit, this was still new Swamp Thing written by the co-creator and I would have welcomed more.

And yes, I know he did much more than Swamp Thing, though, if you’ve been hanging around my site long, you know that’s my favorite of his work. He had a…comfortable narrative style in those early Swamp Things, one that pushed along the plots while simultaneously evoking the necessary dark moodiness of the stories’ settings and events and digging into the psyches of the characters and paying heed to the necessities of (semi-)monthly serialization. It’s a difficult balance to maintain while still making it all so accessible and fresh and seemingly effortless, and one I’m beginning to re-appreciate as I plow through those comics in detail in my ongoing project to reread and examine each issue.

Wein has left behind an enormous body of stories and creations, the most famous of which being Wolverine, introduced as an antagonist in some mid-1970s issues of Incredible Hulk…and of course Wein wrote the reintroduction of the X-Men shortly thereafter, bringing in Wolverine and cocreating new additions to the team (such as Storm and Colossus). Wein also wrote what seemed like every other DC comic I read as a kid, which is an exaggeration I’m sure, but not much of one. I can still feel how blindsided I was after reading “Whatever Happened to the Crimson Avenger?” in DC Comics Presents #38, which I thought would be just another in that “Whatever Happened to…” series of entertaining but not terribly significant back-up stories in that title, only to get hit with a serious emotional whammy regarding a character I previously hadn’t thought much about.

It was Wein who got Alan Moore to write Swamp Thing, which likely saved that title from cancellation (everything I’d heard at the time from the shops I frequented was that the newly-revived series was probably on the chopping block, or close to). And of course Moore went on to do Watchmen with Dave Gibbons, with Wein as editor. (Wein would later write the Ozymandias title for DC’s much-maligned Before Watchmen event…I know we’re supposed to not like those comics, but Wein’s effort, with artist Jae Lee, was actually pretty good.)

One of Wein’s later works was the mini-series DC Universe: Legacies, which was a fun ride through (and sort of a last hurrah for, with the New 52 looming ahead) the extensive history of DC’s superheroes. That just sort of let Wein do what he did best: play with DC’s army of characters and put ’em through some entertaining paces.

And that’s what Len Wein did: he wrote stories for pretty much every character DC and Marvel had, and always came through with something fun to read. Didn’t even scratch the surface of everything he’s done (well, okay, Wolverine, X-Men, and Swamp Thing are pretty deep scratches) but he was one of the primary building blocks of what made comics Comics for pretty much my entire life, and I’m going to miss seeing new work from him. But thankfully, he left plenty of work behind that we can continue to enjoy.

So long, Len. And thanks for being a sport and autographing my Swamp Thing chalk:


Still makes me smile every time I see it.

Adam West (1928 – 2017).

§ June 12th, 2017 § Filed under adam west, obituary § 2 Comments


I know Adam West did more than just Batman, but it’s Batman he’s going to be remembered for…and not just any Batman, but Best Batman. It’s been pointed out by many others how great it was that the ’60s Batman TV show was “rediscovered,” and that Mr. West, in his later years, got a whole new rush of appreciation for his landmark role…and a whole lot more work, too! By all accounts he was a good guy with a sense of humor about his relationship with the Caped Crusader, and I’m glad he got to hear from an enormous amount of people how much he meant to them.

That image above is a screenshot from an 11-year-old post of mine…I posted it to my Twitter, but wanted to repost here as well. That’s from the 1966 Batman theatrical film…it’s a great line, and the perfect statement of purpose for West’s Batman. Sometimes people just remember the silliness and the POWs and BAMs, but there was this occasional moment of truth as well.

I’ve written a bit about the Batman TV show in the past: here’s a defense of the show in the context of differing approaches to Batman; I look at one of its tie-in products; Batman sets a young man on the straight-and-narrow; and the role Adam West was born to play…Batman in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr. West’s hosting of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon…which included a certain film, Zombie Nightmare, featuring…Adam West.

Adam West, you were an absolute treasure, and you’ll be missed. So long, Adam.

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